Teaching Ethics with Tom Cruise: 'Valkyrie' Classroom Material Slammed for Omitting Scientology

A German foundation has produced teaching material based on the film "Valkyrie" to stimulate discussion on civil courage. But the booklet has been criticized for failing to mention Tom Cruise's role as a prominent Scientologist.

German foundation Stiftung Lesen wanted to encourage school children to think about civil courage based on the example of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But the teaching material they produced to accompany the new film "Valkyrie," which tells the story of the failed 1944 plot, has attracted criticism for failing to mention star Tom Cruise's role as a prominent representative of the controversial Church of Scientology.

Tom Cruise's role as a Scientologist has sparked controversy in Germany.
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Tom Cruise's role as a Scientologist has sparked controversy in Germany.

Klaus Staeck, president of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin told the Wednesday edition of the Berliner Zeitung it was "a great scandal not to mention in the school materials that Tom Cruise is a central figure in promoting a totalitarian sect."

A spokesman for the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB), which is a member of the foundation's board, told the newspaper that the materials raise the question of whether Tom Cruise's presence in the film "should not be an opportunity to discuss the authoritarian Scientology sect, and to talk about the civil courage of those who were brave enough to leave the sect."

The foundation said Scientology was outside the scope of the material. "The discussion about Cruise and Scientology is a complex one, which cannot be dealt with just in passing," Stiftung Lesen said in a statement justifying its decision not to include Cruise's relationship to Scientology in the booklet. The foundation, which said the movie was ideal for "getting young people more interested in German history," said that trying to combine a discussion of Cruise's personal life with Stauffenberg's role "would run the risk of watering down the real subject of the material, namely the significance of the historical figure of Stauffenberg and his acts."

Stiftung Lesen is a foundation that promotes reading and counts German President Horst Köhler as its patron. The foundation, which regularly produces classroom materials with film companies, printed 135,000 copies of the 22-page booklet, which includes scenes from "Valkyrie" and has ideas for classroom activities on the subject of democracy and civil courage based on the example of Stauffenberg. The project was supported by Twentieth Century Fox of Germany, which is the film's German distributor.

Scientology is highly controversial in Germany, where it's considered a business rather than a church and is monitored by domestic intelligence agencies. Cruise's role as a Scientologist was repeatedly discussed in the German press while the filmmakers shot "Valkyrie" in Berlin. Stauffenberg's son Berthold Schenk von Stauffenberg said in a 2007 interview that he didn't "like the fact that an avowed Scientologist is playing my father." The film has also sparked a debate in Germany over whether Stauffenberg should be honored as a hero, given his nationalist sympathies.

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